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SI1980

Ever wonder what's inside?

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I enjoy to collect vintage signal equipment that had seen service from the city of New York. Below, are some pictures of what I have in my possession

 

 

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Above, is an example of what is known as an electro-mechanical signal controller that saw service somewhere in the city of New York (Manhattan I believe). It was manufactured by General Traffic Equipment, and it is probably between 12 to 14 years old. Fairly new, and it operates quite well. Unfortunately, when I acquired it, the signal controller did not come with its original paperwork, so I don't know the exact location of where this is originally from.

 

 

I own a second electro-mechanical signal controller, and, it, too, saw service in the city of New York. This was manufactured by a signal equipment company named Marbelite, and it is older than my other signal controller. It was manufactured in June of 1969. For its age, it also operates well. This signal controller did not come with its original paperwork, too, which is kind of unfortunate. So, with that said, I do not know where exactly it saw service in the city of New York. Below, are two pictures of it.

 

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I am personally interested in electro-mechanical signal controllers, because of their composition and how they operate to control signals correctly. These were generally composed of movable parts, such as shafts, solenoids, cams, and dials, that worked together to properly control signals that were wired to them. It's rather interesting to hear and see one in operation.

 

Electro-mechanical signal controllers used to control all of the city's signals for many years; however, in the early 2000s, New York City decided to convert from that type to a modern, solid state signal controller, which is essentially computerized. Since that decision, New York City has been in the process of removing its original signal controllers and replacing them with these newer signal controllers. Many still remain in service nowadays, but they're dwindling. They'll disappear eventually. See them while they last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Could you hook these up to some light bulbs?

 

Of course you could. These are also compatible with standard L.E.D. module inserts. As long you do know exceed the maximum amount of amps, which is roughly 5 amps, then you're okay.

 

I actually have these signal controllers already wired to actual signals that I own. Most of them saw service in the city of New York as well. Maybe I'll post some pictures eventually.

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I didn't know these signals were so complicated. Are they responsible for coordinating with other traffic control boxes as well?

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I didn't know these signals were so complicated. Are they responsible for coordinating with other traffic control boxes as well?

 

For the most part, these signal controllers were interconnected with each other. Although there were some that simply worked on their own. In other words, they were not part of an interconnected system.

 

What I should mention, too, is that most, if not all, of the city of New York's signal controllers were controlled by T.M.C. (A.K.A. Traffic Management Center) mainly at the headquarters of D.O.T., which is at the 55 Water Street in lower Manhattan. This was established in the 1990s, and, at the time, signal controllers in the city were still electro-mechanical. Each signal controller was equipped with a "blue box," which is essentially a computer system that is wired to the main computer at 55 Water Street. There was another center in Queens I believe.  This system controlled all signal controllers that it was wired to, and it mainly provided ample cycle lengths for the signal controllers. Since electro-mechanical signal controllers are still in use today, the system is still in use.  

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So the new machines are silent? I remember standing and listening to the box click when I was kid, I'll miss that noise.

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So the new machines are silent? I remember standing and listening to the box click when I was kid, I'll miss that noise.

 

Pretty much so. I am not exactly a die-hard fan of the new signal controller that is in use by the city, which is essentially a solid state computer. Nevertheless, I have learned to appreciate it for what it is, since it has numerous tricks up its sleeves, and it is also beneficial to the city in many ways, which is understandable. Below, is a picture of the inside of a cabinet that houses the actual signal controller (top) and its necessary equipment. Note that the individual cabinet above it houses a battery backup system for the signal controller (if it were to lose power). This one is from Northern Blvd. in Queens.

 

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New York City has been in the process of replacing its original signal controllers with solid state signal controllers for several years, and the conversion is halfway finished. Out of all of the five boroughs, Staten Island is the only borough (as of now) that has been completely converted, since it is the only borough that has the least amount of signalized intersection (roughly 568). With that said, electro-mechanical signal controllers are still in service throughout various parts of the city, so see and hear them while they remain in service.

Edited by SI1980
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For anybody that is interested, below, is a video of one of my electro-mechanical signal controllers in operation. A close-up, really. It is the Marbelite signal controller that I mentioned a while back in this thread. It operates well for its age (manufactured in 1969), and I have it set-up to control quite a simple set-up. An ordinary two-phase (or four-way intersection) set-up. It's rather interesting to see this kind of signal controller in operation in the field. I apologize if the video is rather shaky, since my hands are not exactly as they used to be. The lighting is also somewhat dim, but you could still see everything. 

 

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Below, are three pictures of the inside of e/m signal controller cabinets in service. From Manhattan, New York. These pictures are not mine, but I thought they are interesting. Every now and then, one could come across a cabinet unlocked. Some technicians are just not responsible sometimes. That happens.

 

Marbelite cabinet with T.M.C. equipment. That takes up a lot of space as you could see. What a mess.

 

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Another cabinet from Marbelite. A rather small cabinet to house that T.M.C. equipment, but, hey, if everything fits, don't complain. Something I learned many years ago.

 

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A General Traffic Equipment/Marbelite cabinet. This one is much cleaner, not to mention larger in size. Also a fairly newer signal controller and cabinet. Nice piece of outdated traffic control technology here.

 

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I was wondering about this... Now I know there are two types of the electro-mechanical ones. I used to listen to them when I was younger, I remember there were a few that made a "click-whirr" sound, and then the more common one which made a buzzing sound. I liked those click-whirr sounding ones, their covers did look older and I always imagined that dial inside turning. Nowadays more and more are silent.

 

I always had a question, does tempature and weather affect the electro-mechanical ones? I remember on really hot days (where temps would soar to the higher 90s-100's Farenheit), whenever the light changed to amber it would get stuck for about 20 seconds. I also remember on a few really damp/rainy days the lights would get stuck or go in super-slow mode, where the light would change REALLY slow, or it would change to red right away and stay that way for 15-20 seconds, then green for the other street.

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 I always had a question, does tempature and weather affect the electro-mechanical ones? I remember on really hot days (where temps would soar to the higher 90s-100's Farenheit), whenever the light changed to amber it would get stuck for about 20 seconds. I also remember on a few really damp/rainy days the lights would get stuck or go in super-slow mode, where the light would change REALLY slow, or it would change to red right away and stay that way for 15-20 seconds, then green for the other street.

 

Generally speaking, temperature could affect how an electro-mechanical signal controller operates. If it is too cold outside, then there's a likely chance that the internal parts would eventually become sticky, and then there would be a problem in its operation if that were the issue, such as the inability to keep in synchronization, due to a movable part that cannot perform properly, which is typically the solenoid in the signal controller. Some cabinets throughout the city were equipped, though, with ordinary incandescent light bulbs, and they were lit usually 24/7. They were powerful enough to produce ample heat for the internal parts of the signal controller, so that they would not freeze in very cold weather. I believe these were 100W incandescent light bulbs. Nevertheless, for the most part, most electro-mechanical signal controller cabinets were not equipped with them, due to the fact that heat rises from typically the pavement.

 

An electro-mechanical signal controller is rather neat to observe in operation; however, it has its faults, simply due to what is in use. Unlike today's modern solid state signal controller that is in use throughout New York City, which is essentially a computer, an electro-mechanical signal controller is dependent. You just cannot leave it alone and say everything's hotsy-totsy. Yes, it is designed to operate for a long period of time, but it is necessary to maintain and inspect it in order to achieve that. For such a signal controller not to function temporarily is I suppose normal. That happens every now and then. What you mentioned in your comment is a classic example of the inability to keep in synchronization, which would screw everything up in a cycle. There are some possible reasons behind that, but the most common reason is the lack of oil (or grease) present in the movable parts themselves. You need that for them to work properly, just like any other type of mechanism. Other problems I used to encounter were dirty signal contacts, and they would arc, which would cause signal indications to flicker badly. If an electrical synchronous motor stopped, the entire dial that it controlled stopped as well, and it is not a pretty scene to see one direction permanently green, while another direction is permanently red.   

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Moderator, please delete this post. An accidental post. Sorry.

Edited by SI1980

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I know some of the modern pedestrian lights have issues in the cold where both the walk and don't walk images (the man and the hand) will light up at the same time, but I'm not sure where the problem lies with that. 

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I know some of the modern pedestrian lights have issues in the cold where both the walk and don't walk images (the man and the hand) will light up at the same time, but I'm not sure where the problem lies with that. 

 

Faulty neutral wires that feed to the L.E.D. module inserts themselves are typically the ones to blame. When I worked as a signal technician for N.Y.C.D.O.T., I always made sure the bases were properly sealed. The common practice throughout New York City is to splice all signal wires at each base of either a mast-arm/guy wire or pedestal set-up present at an intersection. That way, you do not have a bunch of wires that lead to the signal connections in the signal controller cabinet.

 

Sometimes, technicians are in rush to finish a job, and they do not properly seal those bases, and these could fall off easily for whatever reason. Once the wires are exposed, anything is possible. Contact with water seems to be somewhat of a common issue. One pedestrian signal at an intersection is normally affected. If all were affected, then there'd be a problem with the signal controller that controls them.

Edited by SI1980
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Faulty neutral wires that feed to the L.E.D. module inserts themselves are typically the ones to blame. When I worked as a signal technician for N.Y.C.D.O.T., I always made sure the bases were properly sealed. The common practice throughout New York City is to splice all signal wires at each base of either a mast-arm/guy wire or pedestal set-up present at an intersection. That way, you do not have a bunch of wires that lead to the signal connections in the signal controller cabinet.

 

Sometimes, technicians are in rush to finish a job, and they do not properly seal those bases, and these could fall off easily for whatever reason. Once the wires are exposed, anything is possible. Contact with water seems to be somewhat of a common issue. One pedestrian signal at an intersection is normally affected. If all were affected, then there'd be a problem with the signal controller that controls them.

Thanks for the "inside look" at what goes wrong!

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